To appear as a 90 minute Panel Session
Thursday, 7 August 8:15am-10:00
Los Angeles, USA, 5-7 August, 1997

Interfacing Reality:

Exploring Emerging Trends between Humans and Machines

"[My project] is something we're all intimately interested in: the reshaping of the human body by modern technology." -- Vaughan in Crash by J.G. Ballard (1973)


The spontaneous growth of the World Wide Web (WWW) over the past several years has resulted in a plethora of remote controlled mechanical devices, all of them accessible from any networked computer in the world. This panel brings together a diverse collection of pioneers who are actively engaged in exploring future directions and implications of internet based robots and machinery, in essence the newly emerging human-machine interface. The panel will discuss current and future applications of such technology and several extremely relevant social issues including: cultural impact, human acceptance, interaction, authenticity, responsibility, privacy, and security.


There is little doubt that the world of computer graphics will be enriched with renderings and interactions beyond the virtual and into the real by employing robots and other mechanical systems. This panel hopes to begin the discussion of this evolution of technology at SIGGRAPH. We chose SIGGRAPH because it is the premiere international forum devoted to exploring cutting edge interactive techniques. This goal is reflected directly in the title, SIGGRAPH: Special Interest Group on Graphics and Interactive Techniques. Most of SIGGRAPH is aimed at the discovery and development of breathtakingly realistic visual sensations of modern computer graphics and the playful interactions of humans in the resulting virtual worlds. The participants of this panel have employed techniques from computer graphics and extended the tools used to interact with virtual worlds, to allow humans to interact with real remote worlds. Researchers on this panel are extremely adept and inventive at incorporating the latest elements of technology from a variety of fields: computer graphics, robotics, networking, and human interaction, into entirely new interactive systems. All of the panelist have developed several such systems, pushing the limits of technology at the crossroads of computer graphics, networking, and telerobotics. Each panelists will detail the technological elements, development, economic impact, and human interaction of the various systems they have created as well as addressing related issues in the field.

Cultural/Economic Impact and Human Interaction

Over the past several years, uses have become increasingly more comfortable interacting within three dimensional virtual words. However, the graphic rich tele-presence and robotic systems created by these panelists allow user to begin exploring real spaces, distant from themselves. In addition many of these systems allow users to observe and in many cases physically alter the real world and/or its inhabitants. It is still unclear when and how users will adopt such systems, to what extent they will blur the line with virtual worlds, and the scope of their economic and social impact, particularly as new forms of communication and useful household/industrial tools. The panelists will comment on possible future directions for this technology and the development of the newly emerging human-machine interface.


With virtual and real worlds equally accessible, new issues of authenticity arise. While developers of tele-robotic sites on the internet strive to create the most realistic impression of "presence" in the remote space, users are still left wondering if what is on the other end is real. All of the information delivered to the end user is digital due to the underlying transport mechanism. As a result, images and even video can be faked by clever methods of fetching pre-stored images. In fact there have been a number of creators of purportedly tele-robotic sites in the last few years that have been exposed as charlatans. This panel will discuss fundamental obstacles related to this issue and attempts (failed and successful) to overcome this ambiguity.

Responsibility, Privacy, and Security

So far most of the WWW based tele-robotic systems have been intentionally designed to be safe. Although many of these systems have been developed on standard industrial robots where safety is an issue, they are typically kept behind locked doors, preventing an unsuspecting person from accidentally placing some part of their body in harm's way of the robot. However, fundamentally, there is nothing preventing people from intentionally or accidentally creating systems where physical structural damage or human injury is possible. In fact such systems have already been developed by several of the panelists. What are the issues of responsibility in terms of property damage and human injury with such systems? Does the responsibility rest in the hands of the creator of such a system or in the remote individual controlling the system? In the case of the latter it is entirely possible, due to the easy of anonymity on the internet, that the identity of the remote user may never be know. We are all aware of the interest in hacking into computers and manipulating, stealing, or destroying digital data. One can easily image the fascination of taking control of a potentially dangerous device, to use to one's only ends. There are more questions than answers in this area, only that extreme precautions should be taken when developing such systems. This panel will directly address the inevitable future collision of this research with these issues in the years ahead as universal control of various mechanical systems evolve.

John Canny

John Canny is a Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Berkeley. A large portion of his research is in RISC robotics - on minimalist designs for hardware and software in robotic devices. Recently, he has been adopting this design methodology to WWW based tele-robotics in the hopes of creating new tools for home consumers and industry. He is also the recipient of several major awards including the Presedential Young Investegator Award, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation Fellowship, and the ACM Doctorial Dissertation Award.

Eduardo Kac

Eduardo Kac is an artist and writer who works with electronic and photonic media. His work has been exhibited widely in the United States, Europe, and South America. Kac's works belong to the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Holography in Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, among others. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Leonardo. His anthology "New Media Poetry: Poetic Innovation and New Technologies" was published in 1996 as a special issue of the journal Visible Language, of which he was a guest editor. Eduardo Kac was the Chair of Siggraph's Artist Sketches in 1995. His writings have appeared in several books and journals in many languages, including French, German, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarian, Finnish and Russian. He is an Assistant Professor of Art and Technology at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has received numerous grants and awards for his work.

Rara Avis, a networked telepresence installation by Eduardo Kac (1996)

Ken Goldberg

"We must rediscover a commerce with the world and a presence to the world that is older than intelligence." Merleau-Ponty (1945)

I'm interested in the distance between the viewer and what is being viewed. How does technology alter our perceptions of distance, scale, and structure? Technologies for viewing continue to evolve, from the camera obscura to the telescope to the atomic force microscope; each new technology raises questions about what is real versus what is an artifact of the viewing process. I've become increasingly interested in the epistemological question: "How do I know this is real?" The visitor acts and perceives this "reality" throught an instrument with no objective scale. How does the framed vision of the microscope differ from the framing induced by the World Wide Web? Discontinuities induced by these media can undermine what Husserl calls the "inner" and "outer" horizons of experience. These horizons are vital to architecture and to what we might call "telepistemology": how distance influences belief, truth, and perception.

Ken Goldberg is an artist and engineer on the faculty at UC Berkeley. He has exhibited technology based artwork internationally including exhibitions at New Langton Arts '97, Ars Electronica '96, Dutch Electronic Art Festival '96, and LAX '92. His installations have won juried awards at the Interactive Media Festival, the Festival for Interactive Arts, New Voices/New Visions, and the National Information Infrastructure Awards. He was named an NSF Presidential Faculty Fellow in 1995.

The Telegarden: An Interactive Installation on the WWW. (Ken Goldberg 1995) (Photo by Robert Wedermeyer)

Mark Pauline

Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) was conceived of and founded by Mark Pauline in November 1978. Since its inception, SRL has operated as an organization of creative technicians dedicated to re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare. Since 1979, SRL has staged over 50 mechanized presentations in the United States and Europe. Each performance consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators.

The Unexpected Destruction of Elaborately Engineered Artifacts: A Misguided Adventure in Risk Eradication, Happening Without Known Cause, in Connection with Events that are Not Necessarily Related (SRL / Austin, Texas / March 1997) (Photo by Alan Anzalone)

Eric Paulos

Eric Paulos is a Graduate Student in the Computer Science Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests revolve around robotics and WWW based telepresence, particually human centered robotics. He has developed several WWW based tele-operated robots including, Mechanical Gaze (1995), Space Browsers (1996), and Surface Cruisers (1997). With Mark Pauline, Judith Donath, and John Canny, he designed and implemented Legal Tender (1996), a WWW tele-robotic system that allows users to examine a pair of $100 bills and experiment on them to determine their authenticity. His work has has been exhibited internationally, including SIGGRAPH, the Dutch Electronic Art Festival (DEAF) in Rotterdam, the Blasthaus Gallery, and a performance for the opening of the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1997 Biennial Exhibition.

Tele-Embodiment: Space Browser and Surface Cruiser (Paulos 1997)


Stelarc is a performance artist who is interested in alternate aesthetic strategies. He has used medical, robot and virtual reality systems to explore, extend and enhance the body's performance parameters. In the past he has acoustically and visually probed the body - amplifying his brainwaves, heartbeat, bloodflow and muscle signals and filming the inside of his lungs, stomach and colon.

Having experimented with the limitations of the body, he has developed strategies to augment its capabilities, interfacing the body with prosthetics and computer technologies. For the fifth Australian Sculpture Triennale in 1993 he inserted an electronic object into his stomach cavity and tracked its operation with video endoscopy. Recently he has developed a touch-screen interfaced muscle stimulation system that enabled the remote actuation of the body. The Ping Body software stimualtes the body to move to the ebb and flow of internet activity. He has performed extensively overseas with his Third Hand, Virtual Arm, Virtual Body and industrial robot arms in art events, including new music, dance festivals and experimental theatre. Stelarc's artwork is solely represented by the Sherman Galleries in Sydney. Between 1995-1997 he received an Australia Council Arts/Craft Board Fellowship.

Host Body / Coupled Gestures (Stelarc)

Contact Information

John Canny
University of California, Berkeley

Ken Goldberg
Assistant Professor
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department
University of California at Berkeley

Eduardo Kac
Assistant Professor of Art and Technology
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Mark Pauline
Survival Research Laboratories

Eric Paulos
Computer Science Graduate Student
University of California at Berkeley

Performance Artist
Research into muscle stimulation and remote actuation of the body


Ballard, J. G. Crash, Noonday Press, 1973.

Benjamin, W. Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1939.

Legal Tender

Goertz, R. and Thompson, R. "Electronically controlled manipulator," Nucleonics, 1954.

Goldberg, K., Mascha, M., Gentner, S., Rothenberg, N., Sutter, C., and Wiegley, J. "Robot Teleoperation Via the WWW," International Conference on Robotics and Automation, 1995.

Kac, Edwardo. "Interactive Art on the Internet", Wired World, Proceedings of the Ars Electronica Symposium, Peter Weibel, 1995.

Paulos, E. and Canny, J. "Ubiquitous Tele-embodiment: Applications and Implications", Special Issue on Innovative Applications of the World Wide Web, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 1997.

Ping Body

PRoP: Personal Roving Presence

Rara Avis

Survival Research Laboratories

The Telegarden

Copyright: You may view documents and images contained within this WWW page. However, you may not copy for profit or publication any of these documents and/or images without prior written permission from the artist involved. If you actually find something you would like to use, please contact Eric Paulos who will direct you to the proper person for permission.